Ukraine’s forces call for strategic silence and tease long-awaited counter-offensive with


Kyiv renewed its plea for operational silence around the long-awaited counter-offensive against Russian forces with a clip of heavily-armed soldiers pressing their fingers to their lips.

The sleekly-produced footage features masked front-line troops gesturing for silence amid the distant rumble of artillery and gunfire.

It ends with images of soaring F-16 fighter jets – long coveted by Kyiv as it seeks to boost its air defence against Russian missiles and drones.

Authorities in recent days have cracked down on citizens sharing images or footage of air defence systems shooting down Russian missiles.

‘Plans love silence. There will be no announcement of the start,’ the ministry said in a video posted to official Telegram channels, apparently referring to the counter-offensive.

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on May 28, 2023

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on May 28, 2023

Anticipation has mounted around what is expected to be a broad attack by Ukrainian forces to retake Russian-occupied territory in the east and south.

It comes after months of clashes around the devastated city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine in what had become the war’s longest and bloodiest battle. 

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly discouraged public speculation over the counter-offensive operation, saying it could help the enemy.

Kyiv’s Western allies in recent months have provided weapons, armour and ammunition for the counter-offensive, which military experts have said could prove difficult against dug-in Russian forces.

In an interview published on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv was prepared for the operation but avoided making any predictions.

The sleekly-produced footage features masked front-line troops gesturing for silence amid the distant rumble of artillery and gunfire

The sleekly-produced footage features masked front-line troops gesturing for silence amid the distant rumble of artillery and gunfire

An officer of Ukraine's 59th Motorized Brigade controls a drone from a shelter in the suburbs of Donetsk, the site of fierce battles with the Russian forces, on May 26, 2023

An officer of Ukraine’s 59th Motorized Brigade controls a drone from a shelter in the suburbs of Donetsk, the site of fierce battles with the Russian forces, on May 26, 2023

A Ukrainian soldier covers his ears while firing a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on May 29, 2023

A Ukrainian soldier covers his ears while firing a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on May 29, 2023

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media as he arrives for the European Political Community (EPC) Summit in Bulboaca, on June 1, 2023

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media as he arrives for the European Political Community (EPC) Summit in Bulboaca, on June 1, 2023

‘We strongly believe that we will succeed,’ Zelensky told the Wall Street Journal.

‘To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different,’ he said. 

‘But we are going to do it, and we are ready.’

Kyiv hopes a counter-offensive to reclaim territory will change the dynamics of the war that has raged since Russia invaded its smaller neighbour 15 months ago.

Zelensky said last month Ukraine needed to wait for more Western armoured vehicles to arrive before launching the counter-offensive. 

He has been on a diplomatic push to maintain Western support, seeking more military aid and weapons, which is key for Ukraine to succeed in its plans.

Russia holds swathes of Ukrainian territory in the east, south and southeast.

A long spell of dry weather in some parts of Ukraine has driven anticipation that the counter-offensive might be imminent. 

A Ukrainian army, German self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery fires toward Russian positions at the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on May 27, 2023

A Ukrainian army, German self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery fires toward Russian positions at the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on May 27, 2023

Over several weeks, Ukraine has increased its strikes on Russian ammunition depots and logistical routes.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s military said in a daily report that Mariinka in the Donetsk region in the east was the focus of fighting. 

Ukrainian forces repelled all 14 Russian troops’ attacks there, the report said.

Other senior officials, including Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, have similarly sought to tamp down expectations.

In some cases, however, the military has also fed the anticipation. Social media outreach by Kyiv has often been intended to intimidate the Kremlin.

Last week, it posted a flashy video depicting troops preparing for battle and reciting a rousing blessing, which was later aired as a recruiting clip.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister has said that Russia is targeting key cities and ‘decision-making centres’ in order to prevent Ukraine’s counter-offensive. 

Volodymyr Havrylov said that Ukraine had faced repeated volleys of ballistic missiles in May, especially in urban centres including the capital, Kyiv.

‘Their primary goal is to stop our counter-offensive and target decision-making centres,’ Havrylov said at Asia’s top security conference, the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

An injured resident is seen at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in the town of Pidhorodnie, outside of Dnipro, on June 4, 2023

An injured resident is seen at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in the town of Pidhorodnie, outside of Dnipro, on June 4, 2023

The aftermath of a rocket attack in the Dnipro area, central Ukraine, on June 4, 2023

The aftermath of a rocket attack in the Dnipro area, central Ukraine, on June 4, 2023

For Russia ‘it was a huge surprise to find that the effectiveness of (their ballistic missiles) was almost zero against modern air defence systems, which we received from our partners,’ he added.

Dr Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of the president’s office and his chief foreign affairs adviser, has said that Ukraine’s counter-offensive has not yet started because Kyiv still lacks the weapons and ammunition to drive out the Russians and take back the country.

Zhovkva said the military required more reinforcements to start the operation, which was originally billed as a spring offensive but will now take place in summer.

‘I’m not a military man,’ he told The Sunday Times. ‘I’m working on the diplomatic front and my task is more weapons, more support, more ammunition. But if you want to start a successful counter-offensive you need everything at your disposal, including artillery, armoured vehicles and tanks, so probably we don’t have enough.’

Zhovka believes that Russia is attempting to keep Ukraine from attacking by bombing Kyiv, which has experienced 24 attacks in the past month, with more than 400 Iranian Shaheed drones and 114 cruise missiles involved, costing $1.7 billion, according to estimates from the Kyiv Post.

Zhovka spoke out against the European Union for allowing Russia to keep profiting from its energy resources, meaning that it can buy more missiles while draining Ukraine’s defensive weapon stocks. 

Ukrainian artillery batteries fire on the Bahkmut frontline in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on May 28, 2023

Ukrainian artillery batteries fire on the Bahkmut frontline in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on May 28, 2023

A Ukrainian serviceman walks in a trench near the frontline town of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on May 30, 2023

A Ukrainian serviceman walks in a trench near the frontline town of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on May 30, 2023

Zhovka said: ‘Sorry, but the European countries are still too slow and not doing enough with sanctions. Russia can still earn a huge amount of money trading its energy resources including gas, earning dollars and euros, and every euro and dollar is spent on producing more missiles and artillery to kill more Ukrainians.’

Kyiv’s armed forces said on Sunday that clashes are continuing around the city of Bakhmut and Moscow is still suffering ‘significant losses’ despite a relative easing of combat operations in recent days. 

Russia claimed late last month to have captured Bakhmut following the protracted battle that has seen heavy casualties on both sides, but Ukraine says its forces still retain a small foothold and denies that Moscow is in full control of the city.

Ukraine’s top military command said in its daily report on Sunday that Russian forces had carried out two unsuccessful operations around Bakhmut and launched a number of air strikes and artillery shelling on nearby villages.

It said some 23 combat clashes had taken place over the past 24 hours in the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, and in neighbouring Luhansk. Russia claims to have annexed both regions from Ukraine, along with three others, including Crimea.

‘The enemy continues to suffer significant losses in the Bakhmut direction,’ the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on the Telegram messaging app on Saturday after visiting troops in the area. 

‘Defence forces continue to fight. We will win.’

Meanwhile, Zelensky has said that Russia’s war, now in its 16th month, has killed at least 500 Ukrainian children.

He provided the number hours after rescue workers found the body of a two-year-old girl who died near the city of Dnipro in one of the latest Russian strikes.

The president said in a statement that ‘Russian weapons and hatred, which continue to take and destroy the lives of Ukrainian children every day’, killed the hundreds who had perished since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine started on February 24, 2022.

‘Many of them could have become famous scholars, artists, sports champions, contributing to Ukraine’s history,’ he said.

Zelensky said it was impossible to establish the exact number of children who were casualties due to the ongoing hostilities and because some areas are under Russian occupation.



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